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August 31st, 2011 12:01 am JONATHAN CROWL | Cover Story

Gang Green

The Timbers Army is rowdy, raucous and rebellious. It also wields enormous power.

The nonprofit corporation, 107ist, is run by an 11-member board (like the 11 players a team fields on the pitch). The Army’s corporation finds itself in an unusual spot: In the past, the Army rarely had more than $1,000 in a checking account and had to pay for its inventory of scarves and merchandise by charging members’ credit cards.

No longer. Officials of 107ist say their ticket deal with the team, membership dues and other smaller revenue streams brought in more than $100,000 between March and December 2010. This season the Army got a 2.75 percent commission on $360 season tickets sold for its North End sections. Army officials say the 107ist has seen its revenues top $200,000 this year.

The 107ist also earns modest revenue from its merchandise van, which is set up across the street from the stadium on game days. This includes items like “No Pity” scarves, which are considered a rite of passage for new members and are sold at cost.

Paulson says any merchandise bearing the Timbers’ name could be claimed by the club under the team’s trademark. But his comments show the Army has made its impression on him. “I’m not getting into any unnecessary legal pissing matches,” Paulson says. “It seems petty. Those scarves have a lot of history behind them.”

The 107ist has donated $11,000 for soccer equipment at Jefferson, Madison and Franklin high schools. The 107ist also started Operation Pitch Invasion, which is restoring and building soccer fields throughout the Portland area. 

Despite its growing influence, the Army has found its relationship with the players has grown more complicated. As recently as five years ago, players routinely gathered and drank with Army members at the Bullpen, a half  block from the stadium on Southwest Taylor Street. (The Bitter End Pub, at the corner of West Burnside Street and Northwest 20th Avenue, is now the preferred game-day Army bar.)

The onetime closeness between the Army and players sometimes spelled trouble. The night in August 2004 when the Timbers clinched their first United Soccer Leagues A-League Western Conference championship, goalkeeper Josh Saunders was treated to free rounds at the Bullpen by Army members. According to news reports, he was arrested hours later for reckless driving and driving under the influence when Beaverton police clocked him at 102 mph on U.S. Highway 26. 

Team rules now prohibit players from interacting with fans in such a manner, and the collective bargaining agreement of Major League Soccer further restricts how and when players can make appearances. The team sponsored a barbecue at Jeld-Wen earlier this month for 107ist members and players. But even the 107ist would have to jump through several hoops to get a player to appear at an event.

“To be honest, even if we did that we wouldn’t get Darlington Nagbe,” says Army spokesman Garrett Dittfurth, referring to the star midfielder from Liberia. “They would send someone like Rodrigo Lopez.”

players are better than ever
but more distant from fans
than in previous years.
IMAGE: Jacob Garcia

Ryan Pore spent two full seasons playing for the Timbers, plus much of this season, before being loaned to the Montreal Impact. Pore was the unofficial liaison between the players and the Army.

Pore says he has nothing but praise for the Army, but some of his former Timbers teammates—especially those new to Portland—didn’t understand the Army’s traditions and the expectations of the players to follow them. When Paulson pulled Jewsbury and Perlaza back onto the pitch to acknowledge the Army, it rankled some players. 

“I think some guys still weren’t happy with the fact that after the game they don’t have the right to do whatever they want,” Pore says.

The team roster saw lots of turnover this year and added players who didn’t grasp the Portland soccer traditions, let alone the Timbers Army rituals. Pore says there was some discussion in the Timbers’ locker room about the extent to which the Army influences the team and Paulson.

“I can tell you that it’s come up in conversations among players,” Pore says. “Some people think maybe the Timbers Army has too much power and the fans almost think it’s more about them than the players.”

Timbers Army regulars say the step up to MLS has created some distance between them and the players—a reality when paychecks, and egos, get bigger as the stakes increase.

“No one had support in the USL like Portland did,” Pore says. “Things have changed. Once players become bigger household names, it’s going to be tougher to get them to appreciate the fans and raise the log slices.” 

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